The Amazing Effects of Meditation on The Brain
In essence, the practice of sitting and focussing the mind on the 'now' has become a high-performance tool for some of the world's leading entrepreneurs and celebrities – in addition to millions of people looking to optimise the mind in a quest for relationship bliss, work productivity and happiness. Both traditional philosophy and cutting-edge scientific research agrees that meditation can have beneficial effects on your brain. Indeed, while words attributed to the Buddha tell us that "Meditation brings wisdom; lack of meditation leaves ignorance. Know well what leads you forward and what holds you back, and choose the path that leads to wisdom." – neuroscientists such as Harvard University's Sara Lazar are able to provide evidence that, “Meditation can produce experience-based structural alterations in the brain.” Once you experience the benefits of meditation for your mind – it may become a habit that lasts you a lifetime.
Understanding the Logic of Meditation
The practice of meditation as a form of self-inquiry and relaxation, is thousands of years old – and has been embraced by a diverse range of spiritual and philosophical traditions. However, in its modern guise, meditation has become a key focus point of neuroscience in that its practices can sculpt a high-performance mind; one that is healthier, calmer, more stress-resistant, focused, productive, mindful, compassionate and supports goal-achievement.
The practice of meditation
Science has paid particular focus to studying structured meditation programs, including Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction and Transcendental Meditation, However, your journey into meditation can be as simple as honouring yourself with 'me time' on a daily basis at home or in the workplace – whether it's in silence, listening to guided meditation tracks, or using a mindfulness App.
The Science of Meditation – How It Changes the Brain
Sculpting a healthier mind can reward us with the capacity to embrace life with more positivity, calmness, happiness, creativity, drive and productivity – traits that meditation can help you develop. Crucially, this is not merely here-say. The science behind meditation is increasingly demonstrating that by making the practice part of your lifestyle, you can re-sculpt your brain's architecture to elicit benefits that can create a brighter mind in your relationships, professional life and throughout your journey as a human being.
Restructures the brain for improved stress-resilience
Research led by Harvard neuroscientist Sara Lazar and published in Psychiaty Research, revealed the transformational effects that eight weeks of mindfulness meditation can have on your brain structure. Meditation led to increased thickness in the hippocampus, an area of the brain related to emotion regulation, learning, and memory. In addition, subjects displayed a reduction in amygdala volume, the part of your brain that is involved in stress responses and fear. The structural changes were accompanied by reductions in self-reported stress levels. In addition, the benefits of meditation can be long-lasting, with studies showing the effects of mindfulness training still being evident years after cessation.
Enhances focus and reduces worry
Another study into mindfulness, performed at Yale University, demonstrated that meditation can reduce the activity of the default mode network (DMN) – the pathway via which your mind can start wandering and having negative, repetitive thoughts about yourself. This fear-based process is also known as 'The Monkey Mind' and studies confirm it is linked to unhappiness and worrying about the past and future. Research suggests that practicing meditation can give you more attention to the now and thus reduce anxiety – in addition to giving you more power to return to a state of calm, as and when worry casts its shadow.
Combats depression and social anxiety
If you're afflicted by serious depression, then it's essential to seek professional consultation. However, research has demonstrated that meditation can help to ease symptoms of depression and anxiety – making it a useful therapeutic tool to be used alongside other treatments.
Supports healthy brain ageing
As scientists predict us to live longer lives, ensuring our brains remain healthy and bright as we age is crucial to maintain independence and a good quality of life. According to the latest research , long-term meditation is associated with a slower reduction of beneficial grey matter throughout the brain in ageing people, when meditators and non-mediators were compared. Long-term meditation is likely to be highly beneficial for the maintenance of a bright mind as you age.
Fast changes in attention and concentration
Whether it's work productivity, communicating with your partner, or ensuring you achieve a certain goal - attention and concentration are crucial elements of success. Research suggests that the daily practice of meditation can make us less prone to distractions, in as little as two weeks.
Breaking bad habits
Bad habits and addictions can sabotage our health, relationships, finances and business success. Fortunately, meditation could help you to find the willpower to act in your best interests. For example, researchers have found that mindfulness meditation significantly enhances subjects' capacity to stop smoking, compared to only taking the American Lung Association's Freedom from Smoking (FFS) Program. Research suggests that meditation helps to improve our self-control capacity. Thus, if you identify habits that don't serve you – practicing meditation can help you to break them.
For thousands of years, meditation has been treasured as the path to mindfulness and the creation of a happier, more productive brain. Millenia later, neuroscience is starting to validate the amazing effects that it can have on your mind.
Want to give meditation a try but don’t know where to start? We recommend downloading a free trial of an app called Headspace as a great start-point. Enjoy!
Holzel, B. et al., Jan 2013. Mindfulness practice leads to increases in regional brain gray matter density. Published: Psychiatry Res.
Zeidan, F. et al., May 2013. Social Cognitive and Affective Neuroscience, Volume 9, Issue 6, 1 June 2014, Pages 751–759. Published: Oxford Academic.
Luders, E. et al., January 2015. Forever Young(er): potential age-defying effects of long-term meditation on gray matter atrophy. Published: Front. Psychol.
Mrazek, MD et al. March 2013. Mindfulness Training Improves Working Memory Capacity and GRE Performance While Reducing Mind Wandering. Published: Sage Journals.